“So, I guess you’ll be getting busy soon?”
I looked up from the stack of wrapped stack of packages that I was tying together with tulle, cordless phone cradled between my raised shoulder and ear, and smiled quickly (without teeth) at the customer standing in front of the register, who was blocking the line of folks with full arms waiting to check out. My staffer at the register was quickly scanning books and bagging items, and everyone else was busy on the floor, so I’d handle this one myself, as soon as I left this voicemail: “Hi, Camilla – it’s Cynthia at the bookstore. Your titles are in, and I’ll keep them behind the counter for you. Send me a text back at this number if you’d like them gift wrapped before you arrive. We’re open from 9 am until 8 pm, no, 9 pm…. oh, we’re here all the time. Just come over when it’s convenient.”
“We ARE getting busy, and I’m glad you could stop by. How can I help shorten your gift list today?”
“Well, I’m just looking. Getting ideas, you know. Looks like you have lots of stocking stuffers. Maybe I’ll come back for some. So, are you going to be getting a lot more new stuff in before Christmas?”
“IT’S DECEMBER 8TH!” I wanted to scream. “You have 16 sleeps until Santa. Just how long do you need to generate an IDEA?” Fortunately, all my thoughts remained silent, and I made a conscious effort to relax my shoulders and put a smile into my response:
“Well, probably. You know us, we’re always full of surprises, and things are selling SO QUICKLY, we’ll probably be ordering right up until Christmas Eve. Tell me, what kinds of things are your kids interested in right now?”
“I don’t really know. They are so busy. They don’t really have any free time. So, what’s really hot for kids this year? What’s the “must have” thing?”
“Free time. Unstructured time. Screen-free time. Parents to talk to who have time to listen, and make an effort to do so. Unfettered access to books, and supplies for building and creating. Outside time, without a scheduled sporting activity. Friends of all ages – not just cohorts of their artificially grouped school schedule. Meaningful volunteer or service work. Time for spiritual practice, meditation, or contemplation. BOREDOM.” I didn’t say any of those things aloud, but my brain shouted all of those answers simultaneously, loudly enough, I thought, to drown out the strains of the Justin Bieber Christmas album that I had indulgently allowed the staff to stream in the store today. (Side note: two keys to staff productivity are unlimited snacks and a choice of music. Both are cheap and reduce turnover.)
“It’s a great year for variety and individual interests. Lots of great new titles in middle grade to show you – your kids are at Creekside, right?” I threw out the name of the closest middle school, knowing that I would probably be corrected, but I desperately needed to move this interaction along.
“Yup. Good memory. One in sixth grade, one in eighth. My son is in 6th, but he doesn’t really like it.”
FINALLY, there was I could grab onto, and I moved around the counter and gently touched her forearm. “I’m sorry. Middle school can be rough. Is there a specific problem, or is your kiddo just not liking school right now?” I began walking her slowly towards the Young Adult section, mentally listing all the great books about transitioning to junior high, and wondering if I could sneak a copy of New Kid from behind the gaggle of moms who were standing in front of the graphic novel shelves without getting drawn into their conversation and a series of book recommendation requests, all of which could be handled capably by the staff on the floor.
“Oh, no, he’s doing fine. But I don’t know – he’s just moody. He likes video games, and sports, and his friends, but not much else.”
“That sounds like he’s pretty well rounded, and very much in 6th grade. Good for him. How about if I show you some of the popular books with boys in his grade, and you can look through a stack? Feel free to make a list – here’s a clipboard – or I’ll text you a list with links to our website if you like. I began pulling a quick handful of titles, and scooped up three plush llamas and a ukulele from the bench in middle grade to offer her a place to sit. “Why don’t you perch right here for a minute, and browse through these?”
After depositing the stack of books on her lap, I scurried off to reshelve the random merchandise, stopping in the music section to smile at an uncle (it’s ALWAYS an uncle) deliberating between the drum set and toy saxophone as a gift, and hopped over the line of small firetrucks on the floor, which were being carefully arranged in neat rows by a three year old and her older brother. “No, SAM! It is the long firetrucker first, and then the squirter. Do it like THIS or you can’t play any ever with me and my store.” I bent down on one knee to inspect the parade, and winked at Sam. “I LOVE this line of trucks, and I feel really safe from fire right now. Thank you. When you’re done with the parade, could you send the trucks back to their homes on the shelves? They don’t listen AT ALL, and I know you will be a good team to have in charge of them.” As I stood up, I glanced at the front door, where a van from a nearby assisted living facility had pulled up next to the sidewalk, and was unloading residents with walkers and wheelchairs. I shoved the train table nearest the door to the wall with my foot, mentally calculating both the room that they would need and where we could put the folding chairs – as I heard the back door open and the familiar thump of boxes from our UPS delivery.
I looked back to check on my customer, who was snapping pictures of the proffered titles with her smart phone. As I relieved a grandmother of her towering stack of picture books and headed toward the register, where the phone was ringing again, I nodded quickly at the stack in her hands and called “Oh, good! You found some things that work! Hooray! I’m so glad you stopped in.”
“Yes, I might be back. I like to get my shopping done before it gets busy.”